Hawthorns – Tom King, Harry Sanders, Sarah Johnson, Vince Atta and Tony Basnett (MC)

Tonight I was in South Normanton at the Hawthorns for an NCF gig. Bank holiday Sunday gigs are always tough, as most of the audience have been drinking all day. Or if like me, they’ve bought a ticket in advance, there is always a chance that they won’t make it due to various reasons. Tonight the venue didn’t appear to have pushed the show. If you are able to walk into a pub and it looks like you are going to have to ask at the bar if they have comedy on and if so where, then the venue really need to make more of an effort. The result of this was that there wasn’t a huge audience at the beginning of the show. In fact it was mostly one extended group until people began to pop in from the main lounge after Tom King’s set. This initial group had that unhappy combination of not being regular comedy goers and a small village close knit unit attitude that made them confident to shout out, heckle each other and generally make this gig look like a car crash waiting to happen. This probably explained why the seated comedians resembled a group of gladiators who were waiting to be thrown to the wolves.

I arrived late to this show because I assumed that the 1900 time on the website was for doors and it would be a 2000 start. Luckily the show had been a little bit delayed and I wasn’t that late. Annoyingly, though, I only just caught the last few minutes of Tony Basnett’s compering. This was frustrating because what I saw looked to be pretty good and it would have been nice to have seen it from the beginning. I saw him do the rules and explain the night, give a great retort to a man who shouted out about using his phone and get a nice amount of laughter whilst he prepared the room for our opening act. I wish I’d seen him from the beginning.

Tom King

By going on first, King took a bullet for the team and he never complained or moaned about how he’d have been better in a later slot, which is a credit to him. He even managed to get some snippets of material out before he decided to cut his losses and banter with the audience. At this stage, there was just the one extended group in the room and they wanted the night to be about themselves. If Tom had asked which one of them they wanted him to roast and what ammunition they had for him, they would have been in heaven. What they didn’t want was material or to give someone else attention. This was unfortunate, because King has a lot to offer, but tonight he demonstrated that he is also comfortable chatting away and winging it. There was a lovely moment when he tried to do material about his beard and one lady shouted out that it could be worse, it could be ginger, to which he replied, deadpan, ‘fuck off, it is ginger!’ This was followed by more audience work, with the landlord then announcing that he was sending through another couple of punters and could Tom rip the piss out of them for him? King didn’t have the sort of night that he might have hoped for, but he handled it well.

Harry Sanders

I was a bit concerned for Sanders, as he doesn’t have the presence that King has and I was worried that this rowdy audience would act up even more. However, by this time enough people had filtered into the room to dilute the effect of the rowdy group and whilst they never really settled down all night, they did start to get behind the show. Some of this was down to Sanders’ material, which can be divided into two types. Anything remotely cerebral that Harry did was a dead loss. Sanders is a smart chap and this is reflected in his writing. He has some good lines that work well, provided the audience is clever enough or sober enough to get them. Tonight these sank without trace, which made the delivery rhythm odd for me, because where he was leaving gaps for laughter in these bits there wasn’t any. However, Sanders has some very nice dark material, too. He has a mind that works well along these lines and his darker stuff went down a treat, especially the Harris books. I liked the new topper on the striped pyjamas routine, too. The end result of this was that Sanders got something like a gig out of tonight.

Sarah Johnson

I’ve only seen Johnson once before, so out of all of the acts, she’s the one that it is the most difficult to tell how much the rowdy crowd interfered with her performance. She began well with a bit of local knowledge and this was followed by a set where the room largely gave her attention. Johnson is a confident presence and has a positive delivery which helped her a lot. There was some nice material being used, such as the birth routine and the holiday with her friend. These both had some nice touches. However, there were other bits, such as bending noise, take that as a maybe and so on that I’ve heard other people do similar versions of. This didn’t make them bad lines, but I did think if she could strengthen her material a bit to match her delivery she would do well.

Vince Atta

After the intermission Atta closed the show. Initially the room were slow to settle down, but within two minutes of Vince demonstrating his gift with the beatbox, they were his. Paradoxically for such an audio based act, a lot of the best laughs come from Atta’s facial expressions whilst performing. The way he looks when doing resting bitch face is almost worth the ticket price alone. In fact it was whilst he was doing this routine that he received a comedic gift. One chap, totally ignoring the notice that Helen had placed on the door next to the stage, blithely wandered in and foolishly asked Vince who the fuck he was, to which quick as a flash, he replied, ‘the man with the microphone, whilst you’re the guy with the……’ at which point he hit the loop button, which played, ‘resting bitch face’. This was cracking timing and it was a stand out moment that went down very well. For the finale Atta may have been taking a risk in getting three drunken audience members up on stage and I’ll confess that it was a bit unusual watching one volunteer licking the bald head of another. However, this worked out very well in the end, with everyone playing along nicely. This was a good set and one that I think everyone enjoyed a lot. Atta is a unique act, but also a very talented one.

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